Sunday, February 17, 2013

Can You Hear Your Own Accent?

I’ve been fascinated by accents as long as I can remember. As a boy I recall drinking in the flavor of my Virginia relatives’ accents, so much different from where I grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. in the 1950s and 60s. As I traveled as an adult the various accents of New York City, Baltimore and different regions of Virginia intrigued me, as did the difference between the accents of Eastern, MA as compared with Western, MA. Then, being somewhat of an Anglophile, there is my fascination with the land of Professor Higgins – though I sometimes wonder if they are really speaking English, a question to which Higgins would respond at times with “No!”

I recall, when living north of Boston, going to purchase firewood for our home. I got out of our pickup truck and said “Good morning” to the seller to which he replied, “Where are you from?” I don’t have what I’d call a Southern accent but to that man’s New England ear I could have been from deep Mississippi.

Do people hear their own accents? Do they hear their own accents when they are with people with the same accents? If you have a sense of your own accent you’ll likely have it when you’re with folks from another region rather than your own region or family; if you do hear your accent you’ll hear it because of contrast; naturally when you’re with people of your own family or region you don’t have an accent in that context because everyone speaks the same way.

Churches have accents; their jargon, their social mores, their doctrinal distinctives, their emphases in Sunday worship; what can you add to the list? Some churches take pride in their accents, which is dangerous for there is no room in the Kingdom of God for pride, with self-righteous religious pride being the most deadly of all. Other churches don’t know they have accents and they live in such cocoons that they have never heard the accents of others. Yet other churches hear the accents of others but don’t know that they have their own accents.

I’d like to think that accents don’t separate people, but they do. Spoken accents can separate and cultural accents, such as church accents, can separate. There are Christians who don’t have time for other Christians with other accents, other ways of thinking, other ways of doing things, other ways of expressing their love to God and to their neighbor. There are churches that are so heavily biased toward particular accents that a visitor can only become a member by melding into the culture without maintaining honest distinctions.

This is not to say that we should or can be accent free, yet on the other hand as we put on the new man in Christ, which is in His image, we hopefully realize that “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all,” (Colossians 3:10-11). We would do well to remind ourselves of Paul’s words to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 1:10 – 17): “Is Christ divided?” Do we emphasize our accents or do we emphasize our common language? My observation is that we emphasize our accents often to the point where it is questionable whether we have a common language.

It is not unusual for a professing Christian’s primary identification not to be Christ and His Church, but to rather be a particular denomination or tradition or way of doing things or doctrine – there is not only no Biblical warrant for this, there is ample Biblical warning against it for time and again the Scriptures remind us that in Christ we are one and that we are to guard that oneness; in fact, our love for one another and our unity in Christ are so paramount that they are, as Francis Schaeffer reminds us, the marks of a Christian. The world is to know we are Christians by our love for one another and the world is to know the Gospel through our unity (John Chapters 13 and 15).     

Can we hear our own accents?  Can I hear mine? Can you hear yours?

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